Thursday, May 20, 2021


HALSTON - Roy Halston Frowick was born in 1932, to a stay-at-home mom (Hallie Mae Holmes), and CPA father (James Edward Frowick). Early on, Halston had developed a flair for creating hats and clothing for his grandmother, mother and sister. He was raised in the American heartland: born in Des Moines, Iowa; and later residing in Evansville, Indiana. 

He left after high school, to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From there he got his break in fashion as a milliner, in the Midwest, and later, New York. He reached international renown in 1961 with a tiny pink pillbox hat, worn by Jacqueline Kennedy at the inauguration of JFK. Once hats fell out of fashion, he quickly moved on to clothes in 1968, by opening a Madison Avenue boutique.

In the 70s, clothes needed to be sexy but luxurious, which he achieved by building a fashion house not originating from Europe. The first American luxury designer made clothes special, by doing things differently. Bespoke fabrics, vibrant tones, cut on the bias, hidden buttons and closures, muted minimalism, which can be dressed up or down, by changing outerwear, belts, or bags. At his peak Halston grew his business with media promotions (WWD’s 1973 Battle of Versailles) and a series of mergers/ licensing deals (Bergdorf Goodman, Max Factor, Norton Simon, JC Penny, Ezmark, Revlon). During this time he was often seen out at Studio 54; in the company of  Liza Minelli, Liz Taylor, and Andy Warhol.

In nightlife and romance, he was associated with sometimes lover Victor Hugo, who along with cocaine would become Halston’s undoing. Tapped out, running low on ideas, he could no longer produce a best-selling product by just dialing it in. As business declined, so did Halston's creativity, which fueled his addiction, in a spiral of self-destruction. 

His 1983 JC Penny deal arrived at a point in his aesthetic where everything became beige and boring, and sales were reflective of this. A year later, his own company fired him and he lost rights to design under his own name. Somewhere before,  or after or during, he tried to buy his company back, but was unsuccessful.

Soon after being forced into retirement, came news that his HIV test result was positive. Out of the limelight, Halston spent his final days touring the California coast. With a chaufferer doing the driving, of a Rolls Royce, naturally. He died of AIDS in San Francisco in 1990 at the age of 58, just 2 years after receiving the diagnosis. 

Online interviews will drag up old footage of Halston, with his particular vocal fry and physical affectations. These clips will be compared to Ethan McGregor, now showing in the recently released 5-part Netflix limited series. I have appreciated McGregor’s previous acting. But I can’t grasp why this role wouldn’t have gone to a gay actor who would have done a better job? Here, I disagree with this casting choice. That aside, the acting is serviceable, and I watched the whole thing in one sitting.

Halston wasn’t an affectation, a turtleneck, a cigarette, sunglasses, or a costume. He despised cheap costume trickery, and refused to settle for something tacky. It's ironic that tackiness led to his demise. All he ever wanted to do was create something beautiful. Roy was an all-American boy, a product of his own creation, possessing a vision of effortless simplicity which embodied a lifestyle. He was the first, the best, and set the course for everyone to follow.